Sam Hyde Harris Paints the Desert

Though born in England in 1881, Sam Hyde Harris was an artist for the Southwest: though he did not move to the United States until he was 15, he was already drawing scenes of what he imagined the West looked like when he was just 12. When his family did move, they settled in Los Angeles, and for all his life Sam’s art reflected the region’s sun-drenched hues.

Click to download a 1.3-MB, 2,431×3,667 JPG of this poster.

In 1920, the Santa Fe Railway, which was resuming its advertising efforts after World War I, hired Harris to design posters and ads. Harris’ reds, yellows, and blues were perfect for the Santa Fe’s continuing theme of deserts, Indians, and the Grand Canyon.

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The Pastel Ads

In 1948, the Union Pacific began a new series of magazine ads that emphasized the trains rather than the destinations. Each ad consisted of a beautifully rendered yellow streamliner and another graphic symbolizing the theme of the ad (“economy,” “charm,” “style,” “pleasure”), on a solid-, usually pastel-colored background.

Click any image to see a larger view; most of the larger views are about 1,000×1,500 and all are less than 1 MB.

In place of the four to six paragraphs of text on the destination-themed ads, the pastel ads had just a few words in large script and less than a paragraph of additional text in a smaller gothic font similar to the one used on Union Pacific streamlined locomotives and passenger cars.

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Willmarth Vacation Ads

In 1946, Union Pacific ran a series of ads featuring Willmarth water colors of vacation destinations such as Colorado, Yellowstone, and Zion. Other ads in the series include California, dude ranches, and Western Wonderlands, but the cartoonish drawings in these ads aren’t signed Willmarth, so they were probably done by other artists.

Click any image to view a larger JPG.

Each ad in the series had a small image at the bottom of a Union Pacific streamliner next to a steam locomotive, no doubt pulling a “limited or Challenger.” Did the Willmarths paint these little images too?

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The “Your America” Campaign

As World War II was winding down, Union Pacific sponsored a radio show called Your America that was broadcast over 123 stations nationwide. The show featured true stories of Americans at work and at war.

Click any image to view a larger version.

To complement the radio show, Union Pacific commissioned the Willmarths to do eleven paintings, one for each of the states served by the railroad. These paintings were made into posters advertising the radio show and featured in a series of ads in Time and other magazines, mostly appearing in 1945 issues of those publications. This was probably the high point of the Willmarth’s relationship with the Union Pacific, as it allowed the brothers to display a wide range of scenes with some variation in artistic styles.

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Union Pacific Goes to War

During World War II, the Union Pacific recruited the Willmarths to create a series of morale-boosting posters. Some on-line sources date a few of these posters as early as 1940, but this seems unlikely as the U.S. did not enter the war until the end of 1941. Other posters are dated 1944 which seems more reasonable.

Click image for a larger view.

This poster is curiously flat compared with the later ones and may indicate that it was published earlier and in some haste.

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More Sun Valley Posters

The Willmarths weren’t the only artists Union Pacific turned to for Sun Valley posters. Another was Dwight Clark Shepler, a Massachusetts artist who studied at Williams College and the Boston Museum of Art. These three posters–unfortunately not available in larger versions–all date from around 1940.

Born in 1902, Shepler went on to a distinguished career as an officer-artist in the Navy, doing more than 300 paintings of sea battles he witnessed in the South Pacific and during the Normandy invasion. After the war he returned to Massachusetts where he painted landscapes and more sports images.

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Sun Valley by the Willmarths

Seeking to boost winter tourist travel, the Union Pacific Railroad opened Sun Valley, the nation’s first destination winter resort, in 1936. This was just two years after the Travel by Train poster campaign, and the Union Pacific decided to use posters to help publicize Sun Valley as well.

A Union Pacific ad featuring the image on this poster dates it to 1936. Click image to view a 999×1,500 JPG.

Many of the Sun Valley posters were done by the Willmarths. I can’t find much information about the Willmarths on line except that William was a watercolorist, while Kenneth specialized in oils. William was born in 1898 and died in Arizona in 1984. While the Travel by Train posters were signed “The Willmarths,” later posters and paintings were just signed “Willmarth,” and many look like watercolors, suggesting they were done by William Willmarth.

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Travel by Train

Page 109 of a 2002 book on rail posters, Travel by Train, says,

Out West, a coalition of nearly thirty railroads pooled their resources against the auto and introduced the “Travel by Train” campaign. Their cooperative effort produced nearly a dozen posters portraying a rand of national destinations. Most notable were New York’s Fifth Avenue by Fred Mizen and western landscapes by Denver artist H. M. Veenstra and Oscar Bryn.

This poster is not signed and the artist has not been identified. It is the only one of the seven that has a train in it. Click image to view a 1,323×2,017 JPG.

It is curious that a book named after this campaign says nothing more about the posters and, despite having mostly color portraits of 164 different rail posters, includes not a single one from this campaign. I don’t own any of these posters, but I’ve been able to track down images of seven of the series of “nearly a dozen.”

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Chicago-Florida Streamliners

The success of the Silver Meteor and Champion inspired several railroads to join with the Altantic Coast Line and Florida East Coast in providing coach streamliner service between Chicago and Miami in December, 1940. Such service was complicated by the facts that the closest the Atlantic Coast Line got to Chicago was Montgomery, Alabama; there was no single railroad that connected the Atlantic Coast Line to Chicago; and there was no obvious single route that had significant advantages over any other.

The South Wind was nearly identical to the original Champion and Henry Flagler (now Dixie Flagler) on the inside, but–as shown in this Leslie Ragan painting commissioned by Budd–painted Tuscan red on the outside. Click image for a slightly larger view.

Working with a total of seven different railroads to the north, three different trains began operating on three different routes, each going once every third day. The Dixie Flagler, using equipment identical to the Champion, traversed four different railroads north of Waycross, Georgia: Chicago & Eastern Illinois; Louisville & Nashville; Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis; and Atlanta, Birmingham & Coast.

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The Champion

Although Seaboard Airline was the first to offer a New York-Florida streamliner, Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) was the larger and healthier of the two competitors–Seaboard had gone bankrupt in 1907 and again in 1930. ACL was initially skeptical about streamliners, saying they might make sense “out West” but not in the east where frequent stops negated the advantage of the trains’ faster top speeds. But after the success of the Silver Meteor, the railroad ordered its own Budd-built streamliners to compete.

This postcard must be from 1941, as it mentions the west coast (Tampa) section of the Champion. Click image to download a PDF of this postcard.

The Champion went into daily service on December 1, 1939, ten months after the Silver Meteor began once-every-third-day service and the same day the Silver Meteor went daily. Unlike Seaboard, Atlantic Coast Line did not own its own tracks to Miami, so it relied on the Florida East Coast to bring its trains from Jacksonville down the east coast of the state.

The Champion and Henry Flagler side-by-side in the Miami train station. “Melbourne” was a coach built for the Henry Flagler, so that train must be the one on the left. Click image for a larger view.

As a result, one of the three Champions required to provide daily service was owned by Florida East Coast while the other two were Atlantic Coast Line’s. (Although Pennsylvania and Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac operated the train north of Richmond, they didn’t contribute any equipment.) Atlantic Coast Line painted a purple stripe above the windows of its cars; Florida East Coast left its cars bare except for lettering.

A Budd advertisement in the January 4, 1941 Railway Age focuses on the coaches purchased by Seaboard and Atlantic Coast Line to supplement the original Silver Meteor and Champion all-coach trains. Click image to download a 0.8-MB PDF of this four-page ad.

Regardless of owner, all three trains were pulled by E-3 locomotives and consisted of a baggage-coach with 22 revenue seats; three 60-seat coaches; one 52-seat coaches that included a room for the stewardess; a 48-seat diner; and a lounge-observation car. Unlike the Seaboard observations, which included 30 revenue coach seats, the Chamption‘s observations were all non-revenue seats.

To provide twice-daily service between Jacksonville and Miami, the Florida East Coast bought a fourth identical train which it ran under the name Henry Flagler, the railroad’s founder. In 1940 this became the Dixie Flagler, Florida East Coast’s contribution to daily Chicago-Miami service offered by several other railroads north of Jacksonville.

The Champion was so popular that, like the Silver Meteor, its capacity was increased in 1941 to include heavyweight sleeping cars painted silver to match the coaches. In fact, Atlantic Coast Line began running two Champions, one down the east coast to Miami and one over its own tracks to Tampa. The trains left New York a few hours apart from one another and–despite the fact that the Miami route was 150 miles longer–both required 24-1/2 hours to make the south-bound trip. To provide enough power to haul the newly expanded trains, Atlantic Coast Line and Florida East Coast bought E-6 locomotives.

One reason why the railroads did not purchase streamlined sleepers from Budd is that Pullman refused to manage sleeping car operations on cars that it did not build itself. In 1940, the federal government filed an antitrust lawsuit over this policy, leading the court to order in 1944 that Pullman be broken up into a manufacturing company and an operating company. Although some railroads bought streamlined sleeping cars from Pullman, neither Seaboard nor Atlantic Coast Line did.

The heavyweight Florida Special behind Atlantic Coast Line E-6 locomotives in St. Petersburg. Click image to download a PDF of this postcard. Unlike Seaboard, which never streamlined its all-Pullman Orange Blossom Special, Atlantic Coast Line streamlined the Florida Special in 1949. Click image for a larger view.

This is probably less because they weren’t interested in supporting Pullman’s monopolistic behavior than because they wanted to take advantage of the Pullman sleeping car pool that ran on northern routes in the summer and southern routes in the winter. Trains like the Orange Blossom Special and Atlantic Coast Line’s competing Florida Special were winter only, so having to own and maintain cars year round rather than just lease them when there was demand placed an extra burden on the railroads. As it turned out, the cost of winning the lawsuit was losing the Pullman pool of sleeping cars.

More equipment was ordered, including sleepers, in 1946, and this time Pennsylvania and RF&P contributed to the order. The cars were delivered in 1947 and 1948, including blunt-end observation cars that could be used in mid-train operation.

The Atlantic Coast Line bragged that the Champions regularly exceeded 100 mph on its tracks from Richmond to Jacksonville. But the average speed over this route was only 60 mph. The ICC order limiting most trains to 79 mph after 1951 cost the southbound Champions and Silver Meteor about an hour. For some reason, the northbound trains had been an hour longer from the start, so their schedules weren’t altered.